My Adventure Story
South Point (Kalae) to Naalehu by foot.
This part of the Kau district on the Big Island is normally dry, sunny, and often windy as the prevailing trades sweep south around the bulk of Mauna Loa. A 17 mile jeep trail starts at the Kaulana Bay boat ramp and goes to Naalehu. At some points the trail is rough and obscure as lava flows have been little impacted from jeep traffic. Between Kaulana Bay and Waikapuna the trail is never more than 100 yards of the ocean or 40 feet elevation. There are three locked gates in the section between Waikapuna and Naalehu so Jeep access needs to be coordinated with ranchers. Waikapuna is sea level and Naalehu is 650 feet elevation.
The section between Kaulana Bay and Paiahaa Bay altenates between A’a lava flows and soil with grass cover. Here the jeep trail is clear and well used. Ruts at some places are 3 feet deep. I started with 35 pound pack including 10 quarts of fluid, 6 water, 3 cranberry/rasberry, and 1 lemonade around 8:30 AM. I stopped at Green Sand beach (Mahana Bay) for rest and replenishment. It had taken me an hour and 15 minutes to travel 2.68 miles. Other than the 2 ‘by donation’ guides at Kaulana Bay I hadn’t seen anybody since my ‘shuttle bunny’ dropped me off. On an ‘out and back’ years earlier I meet 30 people, in groups of 2 to 6, on my return from Mahana Bay, not counting the 10 or so people at Mahana. Two hours later I reached Paiahaa Bay, 3.81 miles, and took another break. I reached my intended Kaalualu campsite just before 1:00 PM and dropped my backpack. The area around Kaalualu Bay is mostly kiawe trees. The 7.46 miles from Kaulana took 4.5 hrs total, 3.25 hrs hiking at average speed 2.3 mph.
After dropping my pack I looked around to make sure I’d picked the best spot for my camp. Walking back along the jeep trail without the pack was too liberating, I picked up speed and promptly stubbed my toe on a rock. The toe pain went away within an hour but my knee throbbed for a week. A swim in the Kanenelu pond/lagoon washed away dust accumulated from the morning’s hike, and I returned to my pack and set up my new Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. Its light, less than 2 3/4 lbs. tent, fly, stakes, and sacks. Tent is mostly free standing and goes up pretty easy. Adding the rain fly takes awhile, clips hard to engage with in them, lots of guy out points. Did I mention it was windy. I had to make sure I held on to tent, fly, sacks during set up, tied off to a tree, and covered stakes with rocks. I chatted with a windsurfer, and with a young family from Naalehu. Out near Kalolo Point nice sandy campsite with kou trees for shelter, and a weird sacrifice/alter consisting of three angle fish and a pig’s head. I tried and liked a Bumble Bee foil pouched tuna steak for dinner. Foil pouch probably not much lighter than can, but easier to open and pack out empty.
I had a restless sleep from dark to dawn. The wind and surf made a lot of noise, and in spite of the wind the tent with rain fly was hot an humid. My right knee was throbbing and my leg muscles cramped up when I tried to roll over or sit up. The moon set early and the stars were brilliant in a cloudless sky. I’d tried to carefully remove kiawe thorns from my tent site but missed at least one, ouch.
The section between Kaalualu and Waikapuna is wild, less travelled, alternating A’a and Pahoehoe lava flows. There are pockets of sand, sandy soil where small rees grow, and two ponds discovered while researching with google earth. After a breakfast of energy bar, trail mix, and cold brewed instant Taster’s Choice, I emptied one of my 3 quart water jugs and started hiking. (The Taster’s Choice one cup tubes are less expensive than Starbuck’s Via, taste okay and provide caffeine)
The 1938 Geological Survey Cairn inland from Lae O Kamilo is visible from the jeep trail. I climbed on top for views of Mauna Loa and what appeared to be a King’s Road section. I found a jeep trail branch that lead inland to the Kamilo pools where it appeared someone had recently cleared brush to improve the area. At the North end of the larger south pool there is a stone wall, probably old and related to fish farming. Closer to Kamilo Point there is a cute sign with fish saying “Take care of our home”. There are several nice, reasonable sheltered campsites created and used mostly by SUV campers, fisherman. It was blowing from the east and as the surf crashed I got soaked a couple times by spray blown 100 feet inland. My maps didn’t show the jeep trail going all the way to Waikapuna, and a couple times I thought the trail ended only to discover jeep tracks after another 50 or 60 feet. Some places were difficult hiking and hard to see how a jeep would make it. I saw a few spots where it looked like a vehicle had scraped bottom. My legs were sore but okay as long as I could shuffle along without bending my knees too much. At Ki’i the jeep trail turns inland to go around the steepest part of a A’a lava flow. I stopped for lunch at a convenient natural chair with some shelter from the wind and surf noise, but none from the sun. The 6.03 miles from Kaalualu took 4.0 hrs total, 3.2 hrs hiking at average speed 1.9 mph.
Waikapuna is sand with tree heliotrope, ironwood, beach naupaka, and at least one coconut palm, and a noni tree. The trees provide better protection from the wind than the kiawe at Kaalualu, and no thorns. A small sand dune runs perpendicular to the coast line. There is a nice looking sand beach but the water is too shallow for swimming. The beach is on a pahoehoe shelf that goes up to the ocean’s edge. Sea level is below the top of the shelf but crashing waves send water up on to the ledge.
I left the rain fly off my tent, slept much better with a cooler tent and less leg pain. Laying on my back in the tent I could see stars between the tree heliotrope branchs through the tent’s netting.
The section between Waikapuna and Naalehu is active, fenced pasture, and mostly uphill. The lower elevation steep areas are covered with haole koa. At the eastern most switchback going up Waikapuna Pali the haole koa is taller and with the shape of the pali, distance from the thundering surf might make this a good campsite in some situations.
I measured on fluids for the hike and dumped excess water. I climbed uphill taking in the views of the Kau coast stretched out to the south. I was keeping an eye out for a trail heading east along the top of the pali toward Honuapu, but didn’t find it. My original thought was to hike from Waikapuna to Pohina Pali and then to Naalehu along Mamalahoa Highway. I was tired and my legs were sore, so I probably didn’t look too hard for the trail east. After climbing to 500 feet the grade lessened and with less water load my step livened. These pastures have thin soils, lots of rocks, lots of exposed lava, and little annual rainfall, but it had rained recently and what vegetation there was had greened up nicely. I left Waikapu a little before 8:00 AM and arrived in Naalehu at 10:30. The 3.96 miles from Waikapuna took 2.75 hrs total, 2 hrs hiking at average speed 2.0 mph. The entire hike was 17.46 miles, hiking time was 8.4 hours at an average speed of 2.1 mph.